Poland Between Intellectuals and People

Marlene Nadle

December 26, 1990|By Marlene Nadle

NEW YORK. — THE POLES' anger at the disregard of civil society may be forgotten in the rush of Lech Walesa's presidential victory, but it would be dangerous to do so.

The public's discontent with the non-democracy practiced by the intellectuals in Tadeusz Mazowiecki's government started as early as September, 1989. There were protesters outside of Parliament. Among them was Zuzanna Dubrowska, a Solidarity activist who had been part of the round-table discussions with the communists. She was furious with her friends in the Senate who had told her not to demonstrate. ''For 40 years,'' she said in a complaint that would soon be widely echoed, ''the communists tried to prevent any opposition. Now the opposition is all in the government and saying, 'just go along with us.' It is the same thing.''

By April there was a more general rebellion against the government's assumption, shared for a long time by Mr. Walesa, that now that the ''good guys'' were running things, the people shouldn't interfere. A turning point came at a Solidarity anniversary celebration in Gdansk. There was an angry explosion when, after his speech, Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz refused to answer any questions on his Thatcherite economic policies. Some union members broke into his press conference to shout, to finally ask him why he had never discussed his economic plan with the workers whose movement had put him in power. ''I didn't have time,'' he replied dismissing them as contemptuously as the government did the rest of civil society.

One of the few in the Mazowiecki faction who would publicly criticize the attempt to ram an economic policy through against the national will was the independent journalist Konstanty Gebert. ''The government has absolutely no mandate for its economic program,'' he said in disgust. ''Those policies can not be traced to Solidarity's 1989 election promises except in the broadest possible terms. People had no choice between economic programs in the May municipal election. That was just a plebiscite voting the communists out of power.''

This fall's presidential election did finally provide some democratic choice, and the voters rejected both the attitude and the economic policy of the government. Prime Minister Mazowiecki finished a badly beaten third.

In the second-round run-off the essential issues were blurred by a scare campaign using the church, the media and possibly phony military documents to discredit the outsider candidate, Stanislaw Tyminski, and link him to a communist conspiracy. The 75 percent vote Mr. Walesa got in a dirty campaign may be used as a mandate to justify further disregard of the national will.

That is what the intellectuals want Mr. Walesa to do. They hope that as president he will be able to impose the same economic policy on the people more effectively than they did through the Mazowiecki government. It still does not occur to them that they might have been wrong. They describe Mr. Walesa's campaign attacks on themselves as mere demagoguery rather than the nation's deep-felt belief that the intellectuals betrayed and abandoned the movement's original promise of the solidarity of the strong with the weak.

Mr. Walesa has always been able to read a political situation astutely and realistically. As far back as April, when the intellectuals were demonizing him for no longer going along, he argued for the need to soften the social costs of the transition and create a civil society in which people participated in the decisions. After the election, his intention to govern with society instead of arrogantly above it was signaled when he said, ''the plan must be adjusted to what society can accept.''

He still wants to create a market economy and privatization, but he might reopen the debate -- closed off by the Mazowiecki government -- on how to get to those goals. Taiwan might become the model instead of Margaret Thatcher's England. There might be a revival of the argument for having economic growth as the priority instead of inflation control which is now putting Poland into recession. Some might take Mr. Tyminski's challenge to return to Solidarity's 1981 transition plan.

The debate might be raucous, but it would finally bring real democracy to the country. It would end the deformed version of it expressed last summer by the head of Mr. Mazowiecki's embryonic party, Zbigniew Bujak. ''People say if you want democracy, there must be political fights. . . . I disagree,'' he told reporters.

Mr. Walesa will be under great pressure from the intellectuals in Parliament and foreign financiers to stay with the rigid economic plan backed by the International Monetary Fund. If he yields to that pressure instead of following his own sure sense of what is politically doable in his country, the bitterness of the Poles will increase beyond the 25 percent that voted for Mr. Tyminski and the 45 percent of the electorate that didn't vote at all.

Marlene Nadle is a foreign-affairs reporter frequently based in Eastern Europe.

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